Iraq and the overall war on terrorism will be a factor in the 2008 elections. The questions are, to what degree will the war be a factor and how will conditions on the ground influence voters thoughts and votes?
It is something of which the candidates are most assuredly aware.
Some Democrats say frustrated voters have given up on altering President Bush’s handling of the war, and will make Republicans pay in 2008. Others say Democratic candidates are stubbornly and dangerously out of step with an improving situation, and their most promising campaign issue may prove far less potent by next November.
Of course the importance and influence varies from voter to voter. Much of this will play out in the primaries where the voters are likely to be much more politically active.
Iraq is going to be a real problem for the Democrats.
While the Iraq situation is somewhat fluid, the top Democratic presidential contenders are locked in their Iraq-is-a-disaster message because anti-war voters play such a huge role in the party’s primaries, several politicians said. It’s possible the message will sound a bit off-key by mid-2008.
“The Democratic Party has become emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq — reluctant to acknowledge the progress our troops are now achieving,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, a hawkish independent from Connecticut who was the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2000. “If Democrats don’t take off their ideological and partisan blinders,” he said, “they risk compromising our national security and losing next year’s election.”
Of course Joe Lieberman is an exception. Quite a few others on the left disagree with his assessment.
“The American people are more negative about Iraq than ever before and want a change,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., one of his party’s top strategists. “They’ve concluded what they’ve concluded about Iraq. They’re done.”
Moreover, he said, voters will take out their anger on Republicans next year because the great majority of GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates have supported the administration’s main war policies.
“George Bush is on the ballot in 2008,” Emanuel said.
That attitude, that they are running against George Bush in 2008, is silly and wrong. Not that I don’t understand what they’re trying to do, tie the candidates to the President. That has been a common tactic since the beginning of electoral politics. This is just different. The left have such a blue-white hate for George Bush that they are not just trying to pose an identity with the current administration and it’s policies, they are going over the top and attempting to hypothetically and retroactively defeat George Bush for 2000 and 2004.
But to get back to the issue of Iraq as it relates to the 2008 elections, the left have invested heavily in defeat. The deny it, but their actions speak quite loudly. As do some of their words. The most striking example, if perhaps the most honest, was S.C. Rep James Clyburn who said,
I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course and if the Republicans were to stay united as they have been, then it would be a problem for us.
And it is a real problem for them. How do they appeal to their base, especially the MooreOnCodeKos cut and run portion of their base, which is by far the most vocal and influential at this point of the primary season.
Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard points to a NYT article that is, “acknowledging that Democrats are having to tapdance with all their might to try to avoid the trap they set for themselves on Iraq. They bet heavily on an American defeat and now have to face the fact that the situation in Iraq is improving despite their efforts and pronouncements.” Part of what he quotes,
While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war — a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters — they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military.
If security continues to improve, President Bush could become less of a drag on his party, too, and Republicans may have an easier time zeroing in on other issues, such as how the Democrats have proposed raising taxes in difficult economic times.
Gaius sized up the problem very well.
The Democrats bet the farm on defeat. If it does not happen – or if the Democrat’s Congressional tactics end up causing a funding crisis just when things are going well, they just might get one big surprise next year. Riding a tiger is fairly straightforward in theory. The big problem with riding a tiger happens when you try to get off.
And it is the reliance on defeat for their political fortunes that has the left looking for a way to spin the position they have staked out.
Ed Morrisey has this analysis:
For the past year, the Democrats have portrayed the American effort in Iraq as a failure. Their leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, publicly announced that we had lost and that we should immediately retreat. Their leading candidate for President, Hillary Clinton, all but called the commander of American forces in Iraq a liar when he reported on the progress that even the Times now acknowledges as real and obvious.
Democrats have a problem larger than just the message. The substance of their policy remains defeatist. They claim that they want a new strategy in Iraq, all but oblivious that the new strategy adopted in January has proven very successful. Their strategy — smaller forces, disengaged from a reeling enemy — would actually return us to the failing strategy of 2006. It would provide al-Qaeda in Iraq and the militias a respite just when they have been pushed to the last extremity.
The spin they are trying to engage in is to say that even if the conditions are improving that enough hasn’t been done politically.
Democratic officials are quick to note that the overall trend toward less violence has not resulted in the type of Iraqi political reconciliation that might lead to a stable government after most U.S. troops leave.
“The purpose of the surge was to create a secure environment in which the Iraqi government would have the opportunity to make the political change” needed to stabilize the country, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recently told reporters. “They have not taken advantage of that opportunity.”
I’m not going make any prediction about what impact Iraq will have on the 2008 election. As Michael O’Hanlon notes in the AP story linked above, “people make predictions about the Iraq war’s impact on the next election at their peril.”
However, if the left continues to place all pf their eggs in the basket of defeat, I may have to take my chances.